Amidst several types of packaging, packing design itself is broadly classified into two: rigid and flexible. As one can imagine, each form is suitable for a specific type of product. But how do you decide the proper packaging design for you? What are the pros of choosing for flexible or rigid design? What are the pitfalls of the two?

Understand Flexible and Rigid Packaging

Mr. Jalan says flexible packagings are lightweight bags or pouches sealed using heat and pressure. For instance, stand-up pouches have a zip lock, laminated tubes, vacuum pouches, and others. In keeping with the name, flexible packs can be altered or customized with ease. They are made at low costs but provide minimal protection from compression and perforation.

While on the other hand rigid packaging designs include cans made of tin, cardboard or plastic boxes, or glass containers. For instance, aerosol spray, soda cans, self-locking cartons, bottles, jars, and a few others. They are heavier, more expensive than the flexible counterparts, and provide better protection.

Key Difference between Flexible and Rigid Packaging

Both rigid and flexible packaging has a wide range of uses in the present packaging industry. They have exclusive, as well as overlapping areas of application. The differences, however, lie in construction, durability, customizability, and pliability.

Weight and Size

When it comes to the packaging weight, rigid packaging is heavier compared to flexible packaging. This is because rigid packaging is mostly made using denser and thicker materials. For instance, paperboard boxes, tin cans, and glass bottles. Flexible packaging like the sealed pouches, on the other hand, uses lightweight materials such as the plastic or polypropylene.

The size of the packaging also depends on the requirements. Rigid packages usually consume more space as they cannot be squeezed together while bundled. Rigid packaging is supposed to prevent the deformation of its inner contents. Flexible packages are flat, can be bent easily and are bundled together to save space. It makes flexible kraft paper or poly mailers the preferred solutions to ship soft goods.

Durability and Barrier Components

Rigid packaging better safeguards its contents. But, it is prone to external deformation. For instance, the surface could be easily dented or scratched, damaging the surface and print. Flexible packaging does not dent or deform that easily. Even though such packs might be damaged during shipping if pierced by a sharp object, flexible packaging is less likely to be impacted by cosmetic abrasion.

Fragile products are normally shipped using rigid packaging. Electronic items like computer processors, smartphones, cameras, TVs come in rigid packaging added with protective packaging such as styrofoam or air pillows. In all those cases, the cost of rigid packaging is mostly a very small fraction of the real product cost.

Flexible packaging is mostly used in low-cost products within the food and cosmetics industry. Products such as biscuits, chips, bread, milk, frozen food, all come in flexible packaging.

Flexible Packaging for the Food Industry:

Flexible packaging is greatly used in the food packaging industry. This is due to its protective properties. For instance, retort pouches are becoming quite popular owing to their design. They are made up of several layers of polymers and mostly metalized sheets, like aluminum. This provides chemical and thermal shielding to the items on the inside. The pack provides an air-tight barrier, prevents exposure to heat and light, and is temperature tolerant to assist retain the freshness of its contents.

However, there are also exceptions where some good brands use rigid packaging made of tin and cardboard too.

Branding and Customization

Flexible packaging can be customized easily. You can opt from various printing methods to add any color or graphic that represents your brand. Moreover, the shape and size of flexible packaging could be easily customized. This thing lets you come up with a unique design to make your product stand out on shelves.

Rigid packaging is hard and comparatively expensive to customize. For instance, when it comes to printing, designs have to be printed alternatively on paper and then pasted using adhesives adding to the extra cost. To stay sturdy, rigid packaging shapes cannot be customized to a great extent either.

Environmental Factors

The environmental factors of packaging depend majorly on the materials used. Rigid paperboard or corrugated cardboard boxes, flexible packaging made of low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or polypropylene (PP) could be easily recycled.

However, recycling becomes hard when materials are mixed. For instance, paperboard boxes are lined with plastic films and plastic pouches having metallic laminates.

Which Packaging Need to Use?

This blog by Mr. Gaurav Jalan, Founder, and Director of Packman Packaging Pvt Ltd India’s top rigid packaging and flexible packaging manufacturer says further when it comes to opt between the two types of packaging designs, there is no right or wrong. There are specific factors that will have a significant effect on your decision. Such as,

  • Budget: Flexible packaging has less manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping expenses and consumes less shelf-space. 
  • Sort of Product (Solid, Liquid, Gas): Flexible packaging is given preference for products in a liquid form. Whereas, gaseous products need rigid packaging.
  • Perishability of Product or Special Needs: Flexible packaging provides better barrier qualities. Hence the majority of frozen food comes in packets. But in the case of products that need protection from extreme heat or from crushing, rigid packs are better.
  • Shipping and Transportation Conditions: Flexible packs can survive being thrown or tossed without damaging its contents. On the other side, rigid packs are simpler to stack and store.
  • Is it Edible based Product: Flexible packaging is the more preferred choice for food items owing to its barrier qualities.
  • Consumer Experience: Rigid boxes are simpler to store. They are kept for longer – and hence can carry sensitive details about the product such as expiry date or specific instructions. Flexible packaging can be easily disposable, provides the ability to be resealed and is simple to carry and open.
  • Branding: Having an ability to customize, flexible packaging could be printed using attractive graphics to catch a customer’s attention. Rigid packaging, on the other side, could add a high-end appeal to items. 

When it comes to opting the right sort of packaging, there are many testing ways to help you make a good decision. Flexible packaging testing ways can help you check tensile, seam strength, and leakage, among a few things. Rigid packaging testing methods examine dimensions, overfill capacity, and more.

Take time to plan your budget, package design, materials, and marketing aims, to think on the best packaging for you.